ISLAMABAD: A group of civil society organisations have urged the government to begin a blanket screening of high school and college students for smoking.

The Coalition of Anti-Smoking Fighters, an alliance of five NGOs and non-profits, revealed the findings of a preliminary health screening survey that sampled volunteers who were students in high school and college.

The coalition said the survey was taken in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar from October 2019 to March 2020.

Under the survey, 2,000 volunteers students were screened seeking their routine smoking and health patterns.

According to its findings, 70pc of students and other young adults fall in the light and intermittent smoking category, but are at a greater risk of becoming addicted to narcotics or tobacco. They are also likely to develop adverse health affects from smoking habits in their early 20s, the survey suggested.

A press release issued by the coalition said that representatives from the Human Development Foundation, Concerted Teachers Foundations, Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and Pakistan National Heart Foundation conducted the survey to find smoking patterns, dependence, and other health factors.

The alliance will reveal the survey on Anti-Tobacco Day on May 31.

The coalition said the government needs to adopt a futuristic approach and channel additional revenues into situations where financial setbacks are faced such as the current coronavirus pandemic. This additional Rs40 to 50 billion will continue to lessen the financial crunch that the country is facing.

The survey recommended extra taxes on tobacco and the implementation of the government’s announcement under which a surcharge of Rs10 per pack of cigarettes and Rs1 per 250ml of sugary drinks was to be enforced.

However, the surcharge approved by the cabinet was not presented in the2019-20 financial bill and therefore could not be implemented.

The coalition said that if the surcharge is imposed on cigarettes, the government will generate about Rs40bn per year in addition to the existing tax revenues and the same is the case with sugary drinks.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2020